The gentleman was in a wheelchair but looked like he should be on a gurney. His head was lolling to the side, eyes frequently rolling to the back of his head, skin waxy with the distinctive yellow tint of liver trouble. Our flight was late, the gate was changed, I had ample sitting around waiting time to observe him and his attentive, nervous wife/companion. Neither English nor French seemed to be languages of comfort, because she did not respond to the repeated intercom requests of Family Lau to the service desk until process of elimination was complete and they were affirmatively found. I don’t know what necessitated talking to Family Lau but there were frequent conversations and repeated requests that they approach the service desk.
In time they boarded the plane.
We were both part of the early boarding for those in need of assistance. Me because of the broken clavicle and I was sort of taking advantage of the fact that I could get on early, Family Lau because he could not walk and clearly needed a lot more assistance than just getting on a plane early.
The plane sat, something was needed that we did not have, time ticked on.
We were told to stow electronics, which some did (the rule followers) and some did not (the ones who either know better, know pilots, or just don’t care). And then we were airborne and on our way West. After thirty or so minutes, maybe less, the attendant was called to the back of the plane somewhere in the vicinity of were Family Lau was sitting. An intercom request was made for the assistance of a medical professional. And then a miracle occurred: on board was a Cantonese speaking anesthesiologist. Oxygen was administered. There was a lull in the action and I continued to work.
Perhaps twenty minutes passed and a request for medical assistance was again broadcast. Some discussion occurred and Family Lau was traded up into the middle of the plane to be seated, or stowed as it were, in the emergency exit row kitty-corner to where I was sitting. Mr. Lau was lying prostate across the seats, Mrs. Lau hovered above him or squatted on the ground. It was clear that neither member of Family Lau would be providing assistance in the event of an emergency, they were focused on managing what was there own emergency.
For the next two hours the pattern was as follows: Mr. Lau breathing somewhat labored with the oxygen mask, the oxygen running out and there being some frantic requests for help, stressed breathing, help from the doctor on board, and then calm. Until Mr. Lau started vomitting and the oxygen stopped helping. Then there was a trauma center in the aisle. An IV was started and liquids were being administered, some sort of medication was provided, and then the announcement that the plane was going to divert – Mr. Lau it seemed needed immediate medical attention that was not available on the plane. Mrs. Lau was moved away to another seat, Chris was enlisted to hold the IV bag above his head while the medical team strapped in for landing. I was holding the box of needles and medication.
The plane landed, not in San Francisco where we were intended but in Las Vegas and Mr. Lau was carried off the plane.
And then we waited. Medical supplies had been depleted and had to be restored prior to take off. Families from Canada on March Break (in American this is called Spring Break) were unhappy having missed their connections to sunny and warm places. Everyone was grumpy from lack of food. The flight attendants gave away nuts and chips for free, cookies intended only for first class were distributed to the masses.
The story of Family Lau was over for all of those not part of Family Lau. But I wondered, what was it that was so compelling that a man with late stage liver cancer (that is what he had) was put on a plane without medical service to travel across a continent? What was it in San Francisco that he needed to get to? Shouldn’t family come to him given the condition he was in? Or was it his wish that he be wherever it was he was going?
The pilot was gracious in thanking everyone for their patience and giving Mr. Lau a few more hours, this is what he said. Air Canada was helpful in finding everyone new connections. Mr. Lau did not die on the plane, but neither did he get to where it is he wanted to go. I do not believe that Mr. Lau saw another day. I still wonder, and I pray that he is at peace despite reaching his goal and that Family Lau is comforted in whatever way they need.